The beginning of John’s second chapter is the apostle’s first dose of theological certainty, and he offers it straight. This doctrine is best served without sugar because it’s sweet enough on its own. John seems to realize how his readers might misinterpret what he’s written. Are you suggesting a Christian cannot sin? Are you implying a Christian can sin all he wants?
“No,” John says. “I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin (1Jn 2:1). As redeemed people, you are no longer … enslaved to sin (Ro 6:6). You have been set free (Ro 6:7). But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins (1Jn 2:1-2).”
Moving beyond the law, John now articulates the gospel. He has stressed the purity of God and the reality of our sin, implicitly preaching our need for salvation. There is nothing implicit, however, in these verses.
First of all, he doesn’t want any believer to assume we should be indifferent to sin. Instead, the message he received from Jesus himself is that those who have fellowship with him will confess their trespasses and stop walking in darkness (1Jn 1:5-6; 9). Second, he wants us to know that Christians will not altogether avoid sin, yet our moments of weakness cannot undo what Christ has accomplished and is accomplishing on our behalf.
God is both just and merciful. He proved his mercy by giving his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (Jn 3:16). He simultaneously confirmed his just nature by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, condemning sin in the flesh by condemning his Son, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us (Ro 8:3-4).
Our Heavenly Father is just because he satisfied his wrath against sin by punishing Christ. He is also merciful because he accepted Jesus as our propitiation, allowing him to suffer in our place (1Jn 2:2). In this way, the God who is light shows he is no less the God who is love (1Jn 1:5; 4:8).
The most common complaint I hear from people reading 1 John is that the book presents challenging if not contradictory concepts. “In one passage,” they say, “John rattles my confidence by suggesting a child of God will obey the commandments with little to no stumbling. But, then, he reassures me with a promise that Jesus is our unfailing advocate when I sin.”
Welcome to the Christian life where faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen rather than some form of tangible evidence (Heb 11:1). I’m afraid God’s elect aren’t stamped with an unmistakable “E” on their foreheads. Instead, we are simply told to trust. We are instructed to:
lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and … run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)
As the justifier of the one who has faith in him, Jesus is the sole provider of assurance to those who believe (Ro 3:26). If we are to know that we have eternal life, we must trust him as our continual advocate with the Father and the propitiation for our sins (1Jn 5:13; 2:1-2). What other choice do we have? We are hopelessly guilty without him.
Inevitably, though not perfectly, John believes the one who trusts Christ for salvation will also learn to deny himself and take up his cross and follow his Lord and Savior (Mt 16:24). That is why he feels no apprehension as he moves back and forth between matters of theology and morality. What we do is just as important as what we believe, and vice versa. One flows into the next, and both merit self-examination.
How can you rest in the grace of God if you willingly keep every weight of sin on your back? (Heb 12:1). Meanwhile, how will you ever know eternal security unless you earnestly look to Jesus as the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world? (Heb 12:2; 1Jn 2:2). The atoning work of Christ is sufficient to save countless individuals from every tribe and language and people and nation (Rev 5:9). Suffice it to say, I t is more than enough to cover your crimes against God.
John doesn’t propose any contradictions. The word of life is simple enough (1Jn 1:1). You are a sinner, and there’s no use denying it. You are guilty, but the blood of Jesus … cleanses us from all sin (1Jn 1:7). If you truly believe that, John expects your life to reflect it. Why shouldn’t he?
Read this passage again and pay close attention to your heart’s response: “We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1Jn 2:1-2).
Does that statement smell more like life or death to you? (2Co 2:16). Among those who are being saved, the aroma of Christ will be the sweetest fragrance that ever touched your nostrils (2Co 2:15). Your heart will leap with joy while your soul relaxes. You’ll want to shed your sins for what they did to your Savior, and you’ll cling to him with all of your might. By this it is evident who are the children of God (1Jn 3:10).